January 1

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Massachusetts Gazette (January 1, 1767.)

“The VERY LOW Price at which he sells will not afford a lengthy Advertisement.”

Joshua Blanchard did not have much patience for the sort of list advertisement that frequently appeared in colonial American newspapers. Retailers commonly made appeals to consumer choice, inserting lengthy lists of merchandise to underscore the extent of the choices they offered prospective customers. Accordingly, such advertisements took up significant space in many newspapers. Blanchard’s advertisement, for instance, appeared to the left of an advertisement placed by competitor Frederick William Geyer, an advertisement that extended most of the column and listed more than one-hundred items. Samuel Eliot inserted a similar advertisement on the previous page. Both retailers used extensive lists of goods to entice potential customers into their shops.

Blanchard took a different approach. Although he stated that he carried “a large and general Assortment of Goods,” he specified very few of them. Instead, in a separate paragraph, headed by a manicule, he proclaimed that “The VERY LOW Price at which he sells will not afford a lengthy Advertisement enumerating every Particular, even to Pins and Needles.” Blanchard considered the advertisements published by his competitors preposterous. He mocked their marketing strategies, but also cleverly dismissed extensive lists of merchandise by claiming that more modest advertising allowed him to offer lower prices to his customers. Eliot and Geyer promised “the very lowest Rates” and “the very lowest Advance,” but Blanchard called those claims into question when he suggested that listing their entire inventory, down to the smallest “Pins and Needles,” incurred significant advertising costs to be passed along to consumers.

Lest potential customers suspect that Blanchard did not provide a list of his merchandise because he could not offer the same array of choices as his competitors, he stressed that “his Friends and the Publick may be assured, that his Assortment consists perhaps of as many Articles, that are as good Goods, and will be sold as cheap for CASH, as at any Shop or Store in TOWN.” He folded together appeals to choice, quality, and price in his argument that a longer advertisement did not necessarily mean more merchandise on hand.

Joshua Blanchard made a virtue out of his shorter, more modest advertisement when he implied that his competitors could not compete with his prices because they purchased significant amounts of advertising space in the local newspapers. He needed to publish an advertisement to make this claim, an advertisement designed to shape the attitudes and actions of potential customers even as it critiqued other marketing practices.

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